Asian equities outside Hong Kong were lackluster on Thursday, with weakening commodity prices, concerns over a slower-growing China and a looming U.S. rate hike pressurizing markets across the region.
U.S. crude steadied in Asian trading, last seen about 0.7 percent higher at $43.24 a barrel, after tumbling 3 percent overnight on worries about higher crude inventories.
Wall Street did little to cheer up sentiment. Major U.S. averages each ended down 0.3 percent overnight as a disappointing earnings report from Macy's and declines in global oil prices weighed on sentiment.
Meanwhile, mainland stocks that trade on U.S.-listed exchanges mostly fell, even as investors expect indexer MSCI to add some company stocks to its emerging market indexes. Alibaba, one of the largest U.S.-listed Chinese companies, lost 1.8 percent on Wednesday.
China markets mixed
Share markets in China trimmed losses in the afternoon session, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite index closing down 0.5 percent on the back of weaker blue chip plays.
Among other indexes, the blue-chip CSI300 Index retreated 1 percent, while the smaller Shenzhen Composite ticked up 0.3 percent.
Companies releasing earnings results remained in the spotlight; Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx) bounced up 0.7 percent following the release of upbeat third-quarter profit on Wednesday. Lenovo doubled gains to 4.3 percent despite its latest corporate report card showing the Hong Kong-based PC maker reversing into a record quarterly loss in the third-quarter.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index flatlined in light trade, despite fresh data that showed an encouraging sign for capital expenditure in Asia's second-biggest economy.
Core machinery orders, usually seen as the leading indicator of capital expenditure, rose 7.5 percent in September, according to figures released by the Cabinet Office on Thursday. The September figure followed a 5.7 percent slump in August and marked the first increase in four months.
However, monthly machinery orders are known to be highly volatile, even though the core number excludes big orders from the electricity and shipping sectors that have a disproportionate impact on the data.
Among laggards, large-cap oil exploration firm Inpex declined 1.4 percent, while Resona Holdings plummeted 6.1 percent after the lender announced 35 percent fall in first-half net profits due to higher reserve requirements and rising bad debts.
Machinery stocks were also sold off after the government unveiled a weak forecast for orders in the October- December period and as brokerage house Nomura cut its stock ratings for the sector. Makino Milling Machine Co., DMG Mori Co. and Okuma fell between 3.9 and 5.5 percent.
Australia's index ended marginally higher, after an unexpectedly strong employment report for October helped the bourse to recoup early losses.
Australian jobs boasted the biggest gain in three and a half years, up 58,600 jobs last month, way higher than the expected rise of 15,000 by analysts polled by Reuters.
Meanwhile, the Australian dollar also got a boost as the jobs number diminished the possibility of a rate cut by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) in December. The local currency jumped over 1 percent to $0.7135 against the U.S. dollar — a near one-week high.
However, there are analysts who question the sustainability of the data, citing previous revisions by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
"There is a danger in reading too much into this jobs data as it can be quite volatile. Employment growth at 2.7 percent year-on-year has now run well ahead of the growth suggested by leading jobs indicators such as the NAB Employment intentions survey. As a result, a pullback in employment could be expected next month," Shane Oliver, chief economist and head of investment strategy at AMP Capital Investors, wrote in a note.
"That said, the ongoing strength in trend employment growth is consistent with the economy, which is [holding] up reasonably well [alongside] the rebalancing of the economy," he added.
Treasury Wine Estates added 0.4 percent following news that the wine maker has appointed Noel Meehan as its chief financial officer.
On the other hand, Santos plunged 16.5 percent after the oil and gas producer raised A$1.17 billion ($827 million) in an institutional rights offer. Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search tanked more than 1 percent each on the back of a gloomy outlook for global oil markets.
Australia's biggest grain handler Graincorp closed down 1.2 percent, hurt by a drop in full-year net profit.
Kospi slips 0.2%
South Korea's Kospi index dipped in rangebound trade after the Bank of Korea (BOK) kept interest rates unchanged on Thursday for a fifth straight month, in line with expectations, amid increasing odds of an U.S. rate hike in December.
Posco tumbled nearly 3 percent following news that South Korean prosecutors indicted the steelmaker's former chairman Chung Joon-yang without detention on Wednesday, on charges of creating a slush fund and his alleged involvement in the group's suspicious deals.
The Seoul index started trading an hour later than usual on Thursday, due to the nationwide college entrance exam.